Warranty of Habitability

How to be a Smart Tenant

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Don't make common rental mistakes with your landlord.

As a potential tenant, there are some steps you can take before you sign a lease to minimize potential problems with your landlord.

Once you're accepted by a landlord as a potential tenant, you should be sure to ask for a chance to inspect your new home before you actually sign a lease. This is especially important if you've only seen a model unit in a large apartment complex, since the model will certainly have been far better maintained and decorated than the unit you'll actually be renting.

During this inspection, which should be conducted with the landlord or the landlord's representative present, document any problems or damage you discover, and ask the landlord to fix them before you take possession of the premises. If you can't get the landlord to agree to do so before you sign the lease, you should have the defects noted in an attachment to your lease, as well as a provision for when they will be fixed. If the landlord fails to honor this provision, you will have evidence of the breach and stand a better chance with the courts if you move out and the landlord sues you for doing so. This will also help serve as evidence that the damage existed before you moved in and wasn't caused by you.

If the landlord simply refuses to make written provision for fixing damage or repairing defective appliances and the like, you should reconsider whether or not this is the kind of place you want to live in. Don't rely on oral promises that "everything will be taken care of." If the landlord intends to honor his promise, he won't mind putting it in writing.

If the place you're considering is in very poor condition, or if the grounds are badly maintained, you may want to think twice about renting it, no matter what promises the landlord agrees to make in writing about repairs. A landlord who's willing to show a poorly maintained property may not be someone you can rely on to perform the necessary repairs and maintenance, no matter how favorable a rental agreement you negotiate.

Most states have what are known as "implied warranty of habitability" laws. Generally, these laws require a landlord to provide a residence that's suitable for occupancy by humans and free of conditions that pose a threat to the life, health, or safety of occupants.

Unfortunately, the interpretation of "habitability" from one state to another is extremely inconsistent. In some states, courts may interpret this warranty as requiring a landlord to maintain air conditioning, elevators, appliances and other conveniences in good working order. In other states, landlords can just about meet their legal obligations by providing heat, water, and a roof.

In those states which don't imply a warranty of habitability, landlords are only required to provide what's called for in the lease. So if the roof's caving in and your lease doesn't require the landlord to maintain the premises and make repairs, you could end up literally sleeping under the stars and still be required to pay rent. You can find out about the laws in your state by contacting your local housing department, tenants' rights organization, or the consumer affairs division of the state attorney general's office.

The law in every state entitles you to a reasonable expectation of privacy in your own home, even if you're a renter. In most cases, this means you don't have to allow your landlord unlimited access to the premises. However, you may be required to allow your landlord to enter to make repairs, or to show the property to a prospective tenant if you're not renewing your rental agreement. Your lease should require that your landlord give you reasonable advance notice of the need to enter your rental unit, except in case of an emergency, such as a fire or to fix a burst water pipe. Click here

Copyright 1999 ProSe Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

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